Construction workers in the energy sector strongly prefer jobs in the oil and natural gas segment to jobs building solar, wind and other renewable energy projects, new studies commissioned by North America’s Building Trades Unions have found.
According to two studies released July 17, union and nonunion workers surveyed report that projects in the oil and natural gas sector “have better wages, benefits and opportunities than renewable projects,” NABTU President Sean McGarvey said in a telephone press briefing.
He added that workers say oil and gas projects tend to have longer durations than renewables projects, “which means steadier income and more consistent benefits.”
McGarvey said building trades unions have a market share “in the high 60s” in construction and maintenance of pipelines, petrochemical plants and other oil and gas-related projects.
But in solar, wind and other renewable energy projects, he added, “Our market share is very low.” The exception is in areas such as California, where unions are doing “really well” in their renewables market share.
“We’re not saying that there should be no renewable projects or jobs.” McGarvey said. “What we’re saying is they have to have comparable labor standards.”
He added that as the U.S. continues its transition toward more renewable energy sources and away from fossil fuels as projects face changing economics and more opponent legal action, building trades want to make sure that jobs in the renewables sector will include strong workforce training and opportunities for a range of crafts.
But the pay for workers on renewables projects generally is well below the level of oil and gas projects, McGarvey says.
He says unions are willing to work with policymakers, activists, legislators and private sector companies on the transition to renewables, But he adds, "We can't transition into careers where people take a 50% or a 75% pay cut ... That's the problem that we'll have to solve."
The federal Energy Information Administration’s latest outlook report, released last January, predicts that renewables' share of U.S. electric power generation will double by 2050, to 38%, from 19% in 2019, overtaking natural gas as the top power source.
The natural gas share will decline slightly, to 36% of all generation in 2050 from 37% now. But gas will still be a prominent factor, ranking second among power sources in 30 years.
The release of the NABTU-backed reports comes three days after Democrats' presumed presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, gave a speech outlining an energy and infrastructure plan that calls for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and a "carbon-free power sector" by 2035.
According to the Biden campaign's web page, the plan also aims to produce "good, union jobs that expand the middle class." Those jobs would be in construction of transportation, water systems, broadband and the electricity grid.
The AFL-CIO and some building trades unions have endorsed Biden.
McGarvey said he's read the former vice president's plan but stopped short of endorsing the blueprint. "We're anxious to hear more about it, how it's going to be done, how it will be enforced," he said.